Adrian Magson is the author of 20 crime and spy thrillers, including the Harry Tate series, the Lucas Rocco series and the Marc Portman series. His latest books are ‘The Locker’ (Midnight Ink - Feb 2016) the first in a new thriller series, and ‘Hard Cover’ (Severn House - March 2016), the third of his Marc Portman novels.
This first of a trilogy finds a dead woman washed ashore in Venice, on the steps of the Santa Maria della Salute. She has been shot in the back of the head. What really makes her death stand out, however, is that she is wearing the robes of a priest, and she bears a tattoo similar to graffiti found in an ancient and abandoned lunatic asylum on a nearby island.
For Captain Katerina Tapo, desperate to get her teeth into her first murder case, it’s a deeply sinister beginning. But opportunities for female detectives are rare enough, and helped by Detective Colonel Aldo Piola, she begins her investigation, aware that for many, the idea of a woman dressed as a priest – especially in Italy - is something that will be anathema and may make asking questions so much more difficult.
Another woman thrown into the mix is 2nd Lieutenant Holly Boland, newly posted to the large US army base of Dal Molina as a civilian liaison officer, who becomes embroiled in a Freedom of Information enquiry related to atrocities committed by Croatian forces in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, allegedly under NATO involvement. Neither is aware that their paths are soon going to cross.
Meanwhile, in Verona, Daniele Barbo is awaiting the outcome of a court case where he has been charged with a number of crimes, including computer hacking. A descendant of an aristocratic Venetian family and son of a playboy, Barbo, who is rarely seen in public after being kidnapped and mutilated as a boy, is the founder of a website and mirror world called Carnivia. Originally seen as another social media site, it has become something else, where anonymous gossip can be posted and where much of the traffic is sexual in nature.
A multi-layered case involving sex-trafficking, drugs, war, the occult, the church and high-level corruption, other players include former CIA officer Ian Gilroy (who isn’t as ‘former’ as he pretends); Avvocato Benito Marcello, who seems intent only on undermining and closing down the case altogether; and Father Uriel, an expert on religions and the occult, but a man with a hidden background. All these and more are intertwined and appear to lead back to the island of Poveglia, where history has left its sinister marks.
Comparisons have been made with Dan Brown, although this appears to be something quite different to me. While there is a powerful religious element to the story’s backdrop which colours the overall atmosphere, it doesn’t detract from the sinister echoes of more recent events in Bosnia and Croatia, where much of the focus finally unfurls.
A chase scene, especially, involving Holly and Katerina, where they are targeted by drones with supposed dummy missiles under cover of an army exercise, and chased by sex traffickers, is extremely well drawn and tense.
Something for everyone, then. The writing is fluid and absorbing, the tension high throughout, and the main protagonists – especially Captain Kat Tapo and 2nd Lieutenant Holly Bolland – attractive characters without being overly dramatised.